Screening law still remains in place twelve years after the fall of communism

KSČM v parlamentu, foto: ČTK

The latest attempt of the Czech Communist Party to abolish what is called the "lustration" or screening law was defeated on Wednesday in the Lower House. The law, introduced some twelve years ago, prevents officials of the former totalitarian Communist regime from holding important posts in public institutions. The communist proposal was rejected in the first reading by a majority of votes, although some of the members of largest party in the government, the Social Democrats, voted in favour. The main point of discussion in the parliament was, however, the validity of the law and its moral and political justification, more than a decade since the fall of communism.

Communist MPs - Jiri Dolejs, Miroslav Grebenicek and Milan Bicik, photo: CTK
According to the Communist Party, the law imposes unfair collective guilt because it is based on data in the former regime's registers, and not on an examination of individual responsibility. They claim that it also violates civil and political rights, since it restricts people from holding posts in public institutions, and it is equal to religious, political or social discrimination. On the other hand, some right-of-centre MPs argue that the screening law is necessary as the only assurance, that people who were officials or active members of the Czech secret police wouldn't take again highest state functions.

Earlier today I talked about the screening law, its justification, and the problem of collective guilt with political analyst Jiri Pehe.

"Personally I've always been critical about the lustration law or screening law simply because I think it applies the principle of collective guilt and it doesn't really solve the problem of dealing with our past. Nevertheless, on the other hand it's clear that as symbolic measure it's important and it served at least in the first ten years as an important statement, and Czech Republic was able as a result to separate itself somehow from the certain practices of the Communist regime."

According to Mr Pehe, Czech Republic doesn't need the screening law now, twelve years after the fall of communism.

" I think that in today's Czech Republic there's no place for such a law because we're now the country that's on the brink of entering the European Union, and the problems that the 'lustration law' deals with should be solved by the law on civil service, so I really don't see the reason why we need to have a special 'lustration law.' As far as communists are concerned, it's natural that they want to abolish this law, but on the other hand I wouldn't divide opponents and advocated of this law strictly between communists and the rest of political scene."

The membership in the European Union won't influence the existence of the screening law and it won't be decisive for its abolishment.

"In general nothing has to be changed, it's true we have now civil service law which basically would be sufficient because under this law it's possible to screen people and make sure that only qualified people enter the civil services, so I really don't see the reason why we should have a special lustration law. On the other hand, the European Union will not interfere with our decisions, it will not say that we have to get rid of this law as long as it is compatible with the civil service law. I think that most of deputies who voted for the extension of this law did so for symbolic reasons."

And finally, Mr Pehe doesn't support communists claim that the lustration law violates human and civil rights.

"Well I don't think the lustration law is against human rights per se. However, as I said it applies the principle of collective guilt. What I also do not like is what the president Vaclav Havel used to say, that is when dealing with our past we once again have to rely on former secret police, because we are using the secret police documents and register because we have to identify people who worked with the former secret police, so paradoxically we're the victims of the same secret police that we're trying to deal with, and that is something very difficult to justify."

Author: Mirna Solic
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